We harpists do not travel lightly. After packing harp, bench, music stand, and other miscellaneous equipment for an average trip from the house, is there anyone out there who really wants to add binders of sheet music to that list? Lightening the music load is just one reason harpists are making the switch to digital. We asked a few of them to share their reasons, along with some helpful hints for others wanting to do the same.
Why they switched
BRITTANY I was quickly getting irritated with my ever-expanding gig binders. They were exploding with sheet music and I was going to have to either split them, again, or get larger binders. My gig bag was getting heavier, the old and well-loved pages of music were falling out, and I hated the need to constantly move clothespins between selections at outdoor events.
VINCE I bought my iPad right before going on the world tour with the University of Texas Wind Ensemble—I wanted to be sure I had a backup in case my music got lost!
MELISSA I made the switch because I was tired of lugging around giant notebooks of music. It also helps with taking requests to have more music literally at your fingertips.
KATIE Living in New York City, it is difficult enough lugging a harp around town. So anything you can do to downsize your gear is a big help. The days of multiple trips to the car and spending hours organizing binders full of music is over!
Why they love it
BRITTANY I feel like it has revolutionized my life! I don’t have to worry about not having the right music (or the contract) for the gig because it’s all in the device. It’s lightweight and fits beautifully into any size gig bag. I was slightly worried about not being able to have two pages up at any given time, requiring more page turns, however I quickly discovered that turning pages on screen was much faster and didn’t affect my ability to play smoothly. Page turns are also virtually silent, so if you need to shuffle things around bit during a wedding ceremony, it will not interrupt or cause a distraction. Pages never blow around or fall off the stand. The glowing screen is an added bonus when playing in darker venues, making it possible to see the music and the strings without a stand light.
VINCE It makes gigs tremendously easier! It is a bit time consuming to scan files, but I know they’re all in there, and I can sort them easily in forScore. I can also download music that I purchase or is emailed to me, or music from IMSLP, without having to waste ink (that’s really helpful when you’re studying the score for The Nutcracker before your first ever performance of it!). I have used my iPad exclusively for Nutcracker since the first time I played it, and it is so much easier for the page turns. And I can see clearly in the pit. Plus, I like to record the “Waltz of the Flowers” cadenza every year and send it to friends!
MELISSA It has been AMAZING. My gig bag is so much lighter, and I have more music at my fingertips than ever before. When it’s windy the music doesn’t blow around. Also you can search for music on the app, so you never misplace any piece of sheet music that gets scanned and uploaded into it! I also don’t worry too much about the device itself, since everything is [also] saved on the cloud.
KATIE Besides downsizing your gear, using the iPad has so many benefits. It works wonders at a gig when someone comes and asks you for a request. In a matter of seconds, you can pull up the piece that they are requesting. It is also great for lighting! When using the iPad you don’t have to bring a stand light. The iPad is also great for outside gigs. No more windy pages and I also find that the iPad stand is very sturdy, so you don’t have to worry about it blowing over.
BRITTANY I am in constant fear of it making a noise and I think I check the volume or internet settings four or five times every gig. I’m also concerned about the battery life suddenly plummeting and I’d be left without music so I’ve had to add a portable charger and cable to my gig bag. Neither of these things have yet to happen, knock on wood!
VINCE Well, I always have the fear of the battery dying, but I’m very careful to charge it and bring my charger with me. I’ve never had that happen. My main problem is taking time to scan ALL the music I have and updating it, just because it does take some time. The iPad Air also has a smaller screen, so some music is hard to read.
MELISSA I now get annoyed when I’m playing an orchestra or chamber music job and I have to turn pages with more effort than just tapping the screen!! But seriously, there has been nothing bad about the experience.
KATIE The only downside of the iPad for me is the [small] size. I haven’t upgraded to the iPad Pro yet. That’s my next big purchase.
BRITTANY Go big or go home! The huge [iPad Pro] 12.9″ screen is an absolute must so that your music doesn’t shrink when you scan it into your device.
VINCE [Scanning music] is faster if you scan with a photocopier onto a USB drive!
MELISSA Start scanning now. Even after a year, I have not digitized everything I would like to. But I’m getting there!
KATIE You can organize all of your music into set lists. I have mine organized into categories: weddings, afternoon tea, Christmas, classical, pop, etc. It makes it easy to choose your repertoire based on your gig.
Apps they can’t live without
BRITTANY The forScore app was definitely worth the minimal cost. I love the “setlist” feature in the app that allows me to create an ordered set for each individual wedding in advance, so I don’t have to re-organize my binder for every event. I always have an updated digital index of all my music in the app and can quickly search by composer, title, style, or difficulty. It does take a while to scan all the music and input the information, but it’s worth the extra effort. The app also has features to let you mark your music or add cues for page jumps. Some harpists have recommended using a foot pedal to turn pages, but I haven’t personally felt the need for one.
VINCE Tonal Energy is great, both for professional use, and for teaching. It smiles at you when you’re in tune! For teaching, I use the pitch wheel to set drones to help students tune the highest and lowest strings on their harps by ear. I use the sound analysis feature to give students a visual of evenness when they’re playing exercises, and of course I use the metronome in class daily.
Why you should take the plunge
BRITTANY Don’t feel like you have to be tech-savvy to “go digital.” I know very little when it comes to electronic gadgets, but both the iPad and the forScore apps are incredibly user-friendly.
VINCE I would say that as professionals, and as harpists, we should make use of every tool at our disposal. For some, there is some comfort in the physical, written copy of a piece of music, but that doesn’t go away when you go digital! I like to think I’ve just added a new tool to my harp kit.
MELISSA I really wish I had done this sooner. I am the type who still likes mailing paper checks to pay bills and I don’t want to do online banking at all! But paperless is the way to go for gig music.
KATIE Go for it. It is so easy these days to scan music. You can even purchase most of your music in PDF format and transfer it directly onto your iPad. You’ll have thousands of pieces within reach at all times.